More than 2,000 people — all hot and bothered by Bruce Ratner’s plan to build 16 skyscrapers and an 18,000-seat basketball arena in Prospect Heights — assembled Sunday at Grand Army Plaza in the largest opposition rally since Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal was unveiled three years ago.
The protestors — toting bicycles, dogs, babies in stylish papooses, and skyscraper-emblazoned signs furnished by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn — crowded around a makeshift stage at the entrance to Prospect Park and cheered Atlantic Yards foes who ranged from the elected to the absurd.
In the latter category, Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir compared Bruce Ratner to the Devil.
Somewhere in the middle were actors Steve Buscemi and Rosie Perez. Buscemi, a fixture on the anti-Ratner circuit, began his speech with the first-ever airing of an unnamed political poem that began, “Roses are red/I like William Shatner/But I am opposed/to the Atlantic Yards project.”
For her part, Perez implored her pal, rapper and Atlantic Yards investor Jay-Z, to “do the right thing.”
“Jay-Z needs to slow down a bit and look at what it is really being proposed,” Perez said after stepping off the stage.
“[Ratner needs to] build a better plan because this one isn’t benefiting the poor,” the millionaire movie star added.
And among the elected officials, City Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie) stood out, calling the project “instant gentrification,” bringing up concerns that the “supermall” would be super-white and drown out political support for black leaders who have traditionally ruled at the polls there.
“Do the math,” Barron told The Brooklyn Papers after coming down from the stage. “The economic formula for this development means that 90 percent of the people moving in are going to be white.”
It was clear from the anti-project crowd that surrounded Barron that the area is getting whiter and will likely continue to do so as more luxury development is built. Though most of the speakers selected by DDDB were black, the majority of their audience wasn’t, again demonstrating the organization’s difficulties in tapping into activist networks in the area’s minority communities.
Most of the support that Atlantic Yards has, after all, has come from blacks (and elected officials whose districts are far from the mega-project).
Noticeably absent from last week’s rally were many of the very people caught in the middle: the rent-stabilized tenants who live in Ratner-owned buildings in the Prospect Heights footprint that the developer will soon tear down.
The tenants have been offered help finding new apartments and have been guaranteed a unit in the development — which Ratner is required to do by law — but some said they feel alienated from both sides of the debate.
“This is my life,” said one man, who did not attend the Sunday rally. “I am sick of hearing people talk about it who are not really facing any of the consequences.”
Jennifer Levy, whose South Brooklyn Legal Services represents five of the tenants, said Ratner’s relocation offer forbade tenants from talking about any agreements with the developer — a controversial gag order similar to other agreements that have stifled discussion of dozens of real-estate deals Ratner has made within the development’s 22 acres.
The Grand Army Plaza rally — which came two days before the state gave Atlantic Yards a preliminary nod — was the largest event DDDB has held since Ratner unveiled his first model at Borough Hall in 2003.
“We think the development is too big,” said first-time protestor Marty Goldin, a Park Slope resident and real-estate developer.
“I have asthma,” added Grace Shannon, a Clinton Hill resident. “Now that I’ve heard how much pollution this thing is going to bring, I am fighting for my life.”
But the throngs of demonstrators — most came from close-by neighborhoods like Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill — scared off at least one potential supporter, an agoraphobic jogger.
“I don’t like crowds, period, not at an arena and not at a demonstration,” said the Fort Greene resident who declined to give his name.